By Cole Parkinson
After the backlash to the rescinding of the 1976 Coal Policy, the UCP government is moving forward with a consultation process to gain a better understanding of what Albertans want to see with coal development.
On Monday, during a media conference, Minister of Energy Sonya Savage highlighted the provincial government was moving forward with consultations and an independent review committee.
“Last month, after hearing the concerns raised by Albertans about coal development on sensitive lands, I committed to widespread engagement on a modern coal policy. Today, (March 22) I’m pleased to announce the details. Details about how we will engage with Albertans on this important topic,” said Savage. “Over the past few months, I’ve met with and heard from Albertans in all corners of the province about the future of coal development in Alberta. I thank everyone who has taken the time to share their thoughts.”
In order to get a better view of what Albertans want and giving them an avenue to express their opinions, an independent committee has been formed to lead the discussion.
“I’ve decided the best course of action is to appoint an external committee to lead a comprehensive public engagement. An engagement that will inform the province’s long-term approach to coal development. My goal is to ensure the process is thorough and it meets the needs of Albertans and the coal policy committee will do exactly that. Establishing a committee enables our government to develop a modern coal policy for Albertans, by Albertans. The panel members each have an array of backgrounds and experiences with coal development that will help us ensure the views of all Albertans are heard in this process,” added Savage. “The committee will ensure everyone has the opportunity to contribute to how the province will manage our coal resources.”
Albertans can give their opinion in an online survey, which can be found at http://www.alberta.ca/coal-policy-engagement. Savage stated the government is also starting consultations with First Nations.
“There will be government to government, a separate parallel process that is starting.”
The committee is comprised of five members — Ron Wallace (an internationally-recognized expert in regulatory policies associated with environmental assessment and monitoring), Fred Bradley (former Alberta minister of the Environment under premier Peter Lougheed), Natalie Charlton (executive director at Hinton and District Chamber of Commerce), Bill Trafford (president of the Livingstone Landowners’ Group) and Eric North Peigan (small business owner and a member of Pikanii First Nation).
“This process will be extensive and will offer various opportunities for Albertans to get involved. The committee will prepare a report that summarizes the perspectives they’ve heard and provide recommendations about the development of a modern coal policy,” stated Savage.
The group has until Nov. 15 to submit their findings. Wallace added the committee’s goal is to listen to Albertans and from that, it will shape how the new policy looks.
“People in Alberta have the right to express their values and their views to government. This is an opportunity where policy will be formed. The people we will be openly consulting with over the next several months will inform and help direct that policy. It’s an enormous opportunity for the people who are concerned and interested in this issue to not only speak to us, but also inform the government and to form a policy going forward.”
A question was posed to Savage around the cost of the committee.
“We’ve allocated from existing government budget $500,000, to support the committee. We Are also dedicating a secretariat of five people within the government and within the department to assist them on administrative duties,” she answered.
With the announcement, the Alberta NDP expressed concern about the process, as they feel the UCP’s ultimate goal is to continue coal development.
“Over the last few months, Minister Sonya Savage has made it clear the UCP wants to expand coal mining in Alberta’s eastern slopes. But Albertans have made it clear they do not want this,” reads a statement from Marlin Schmidt, NDP critic for Environment and Parks. “Albertans want real consultation. The UCP ignored that.”
“Minister Savage appointed yet another panel and launched a three-week online survey that clearly points towards the outcome the government wants, which is coal mining in Alberta’s most beautiful landscapes and important watersheds. There are no questions in the survey about water quality and water quantity, and that raises questions about whether these topics will be in the scope of the consultation.”
“If the UCP were sincere about their desire to consult with Albertans, they would have halted all coal exploration activities, or started this process last year when they rescinded the 1976 Lougheed Coal Policy to begin with.”
Savage addressed this concern raised around having a predetermined outcome.
“It’s definitely not a predetermined outcome and we’ve said several times this will be a coal policy made by Albertans. Consultations by Albertans, for Albertans — so we’ll be interested in hearing the views of Albertans, which will be the basis of a new coal policy. I don’t think there is anything predetermined. The one thing I learned over the last three months is Albertans have a very strong view on coal development and they will tell us what their view is. The consultation is meant in the greatest openness to get those views of Albertans and ensure we understand them.”